M.L. Sondhi

The Pioneer, November 12, 1997

The post-Cold War global environment requires more robust postures in developing Indian oppositions than the defensiveness of the Gujral Doctrine seems to allow.  On the Kashmir Issue so far we have had but a sterile semantic exercise with Pakistan and have failed to achieve a substantial breakthrough despite Mr. Gujaral’s amicable gestures and cultivated use of Urdu poetry, and this has generated a strong sense of disillusionment and frustration.

The considerable vacillation and confusion in our policy could seriously imperil our interests in Kashmir unless we strengthen certain key conceptual and institutional aspects in our foreign policy and security policy decision-making.  A relatively coherent and consensual policy framework exists thanks to the unanimous endorsement by the Indian Parliament of a national policy on Kashmir coupled with the Simla Agreement.  A casual scrutiny of the diplomatic situation with regard to (i) Britain (ii) the USA and (iii) Iran would suggest that the Gujral Doctrine provides little guidance for our immediate interests and core values.

BRITAIN:  There are significant structural differences between Britain’s last Conservative government’s pursuit of foreign policy, especially with regard to Kashmir in relation to India and Pakistan, and Labour’s present agenda, intentions and motivations with regard to the subcontinent.  Conservative Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd’s statement pointed towards a reasonable avenue which could be travelled by India and Pakistan for developing new and promising courses of action for solving Indo-Pakistan conflicts without any external sponsorship.  The Labour leadership which includes Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Minister Robin Cook and the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Derek Fatchett, are not merely guilty of periodic lapses in diplomatic protocol, but are pursuing a well thought out policy which amounts to a gradual erosion of the Conservative government’s strategy.  The Labour Party analysts may have persuaded themselves that such a line would constrain the growth of Islamic fundamentalism in Britain and the subcontinent,, but the ingredients of the new Labour policy regrettably do not meet India’s basic strategic requirements, and rather suggest a number of potentially dangerous developments for New Delhi.

For the first time Britain is, in fact, posing an international challenge to India’s continued authority in Kashmir at the rhetorical level which if allowed to pass unchallenged could intensify friction in the Valley and negatively affect India’s military strategic setting. It bears emphasis that these new theories successively espoused by several Labour spokesmen, are not only prejudiced in favour of Pakistan, but provide the thin edge of the wedge with which to challenge Indian sovereignty.  If the Labour government should succeed in its purpose, it would undermine effective deterrence against terrorism within Kashmir and jeopardise long term security and stability in India’s external dimension.

Whether this is a Machiavellian manoeuvre or the result of muddled thinking is beside the point.  The Indian state is facing an unprecedented challenge.  At a time when Dr. Farooq Abdullah has had some success in using the healing power of reconciliation, and the Indian security forces have achieved a decisive edge in anti-terrorist operations, the British Labour Government has initiated an extensive campaign to morally damage the Indian position.  The seeds of this policy were sown at Labour’s annual conference at Brighton, and though enough warnings were relayed by several Indian correspondents based in Britain, they were largely ignored by Indian policy makers, and those seeds are now beginning to germinate.  Taking their cue from British Labour, several think tanks in the USA are also engaged in intimidating New Delhi.

Instead of merely reaching fitfully to instances of international pressure on the Kashmir issue, it is high time that India brought together the entire gamut of issues which bedevil Indo-British relations and initiate discussions to resolve them at the very highest level.  If no redress is available, the extreme step of withdrawal from the Commonwealth could be contemplated.

USA:  None can any longer doubt that the United States and India are seriously engaged in sorting out a number of vexed issues in their relationship, and one can see the glimmerings of a future strategic partnership between these two great democracies in the comity of nations.  At the same time here is a wide conceptual divide between New Delhi and Washington over two important issues.  First with respect to the politics and strategy of nuclear weaponry, Washington has failed to show adequate understanding of India’s needs vis--vis China and Pakistan.  If Washington has its way it will destabilise Asian regional politics and entrench Chinese hegemonic power.  Second, the US has strong incentives for not dispelling Indian fear and suspicions about an American design for an independent Kashmir until India’s options and responses are appraised in terms of a new paradigm by the foreign policy establishment in Washington.

Many promoters of the independent Kashmir idea in Washington naively assume that such a state will be under “western” influence, and could be developed into a kind of Asian Switzerland.  The view has been advanced many times since Adlai Steventions’s visit to the Valley in Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah’s time. It is important for New Delhi to highlight for such theorists the potential for an Islamist independent Kashmir to turn into a rogue state which will not only be a geo-strategic threat to India and augment conflict and regional instability, but will be fraught with incalculable risks for the USA as well.  It would not be too fanciful to imagine that even a semi-independent Kashmir might turn into a haven for terrorists of all hues, even of the nuclear-armed variety with weapons stolen from the CIS.  If New Delhi desires that the Clinton Administration be encouraged to direct its attention to areas of convergence of Indian and American regional and global interests, it must reject the independence option and the philosophy of ceding territory for peace in a systematic and deliberate way.  The wise course for India does not lie in bringing Iran as a strategic partner in Kashmir, which will only spur Washington to adopt a high risk approach to the Kashmir problem.  Kashmir is not the cause but the result of what is wrong in Indo-Pakistan relations.  No less a person than Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan proffered this view in 1967 when I visited him in Jalalabad.  The US understandably desires to promote a new political dynamic in South Asia, but it is up to India to clarify that an independent Kashmir is tangential if not inimical to US foreign policy objectives in the altered political landscape.

IRAN:  There is a school of thought in India which believes that Iran can be used to help bridge the divide between Kashmir and the rest of India, while reducing Pakistan’s credibility as the protector of Islamic interest in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.  Teheran has also over the last few years been playing on the theme of Asian unity and has offered several formulae for stabilising the Asian peace order through a trilateral combination between India, Iran and China.  In line with this new thinking, the Iranian ambassador to India, Mr. Ali Raza Sheikh Attar recently visited the Shia-dominated border town of Kargil where 18 persons died and 35 others were wounded in the recent shelling from Pakistan.  This unusual visit signalled Teheran’s ambition to provide a constructive regionalist approach.  Even though the Iranian ambassador’s motives may be entirely honourable and humanitarian, the thesis of Iran’s or any other country’s role in Kashmir is flawed when viewed from India’s political standpoint, as well as from the perspective of regional military and strategic considerations.  A just and equitable settlement of the Kashmir problem requires India to adopt a prudent and intelligent diplomatic policy building on the Simla foundation.  Although we may view Iran as a cooperative partner and take advantage of it in indirect diplomacy, we have no alternative but to enforce a strict hands off policy against any and every form of intrusive diplomacy at the ground level.

All the three countries referred to, USA, Britain and Iran, appear to taking free rides at India’s expense and will continue to do so unless we bypass both the parochial attitude of Pakistan and the patronage of others.  This cannot be achieved through the current approach of ‘small steps’ for confidence building, which is more likely to lead to our being caught in the appropriately-termed ‘Munich Syndrome’ which recalls the inability of both President Benes of pre-World War II Czechoslovakia, and of Chamberlain as representative of the Western powers to cope with the demands of Hitler.  To escape from the cul-de-sac in which we find ourselves would require a historical cum philosophical re-evaluation of events since 1947, and a break from the stereotyped approaches which have governed our policy-making in the Cold War period.  I suggest that the following merits our close attention. 

We should let it be known internationally that we are willing to find a modus vivendi with Pakistan but there has been a basic change/shift in Pakistani power even if it still adopts aggressive and menacing postures.  US analysts have described Pakistan as a “failing state” and serious geopolitical problems would arise should central authority collapse in Islamabad.

New Delhi is under no obligation to provide Islamabad with gains in the foreign policy sphere in order to prevent a failure of the regime.  The historical burden and experience of Yugoslavia’s disintegration is well known to the western powers, and it does not lie on them to impose an even greater burden on India.  Reconciliation with Pakistan is on the cards so far as India is concerned but we do not want to kindle hopes until a government comes up in Islamabad which is genuinely dedicated to reform and achieves humane solutions to her internal problems and intra-ethnic warfare.

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